How does the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" depict the characteristics of the United State Government?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many ways in which Capra's classic represents the essence of United States Government.  The first would be the idea that elected leaders are meant to represent the direct interests of the people.  This principle of Republicanism government and a sense of popular sovereignty is represented in how Senator Smith is viewed by his constituency.  They believe in him, and are authentic in their notions that he will do right by them.  When public support swells in favor of the campsite legislation proposed by Smith, it shows that legislators and lawmakers derive their power from the "consent of the governed."  Another American government idea which is present in the film is the idea that individuals can settle their disputes through dialogue and discourse.  It is interesting to see that Smith decides to defend himself from the accusations of corruption through a filibuster on the Senate Floor.  It reflects the Framers' belief that American Government should be driven by dialogue and discourse.  The fact that Smith uses a filibuster, a technique designed to allow all aspects of a dialogue to be heard, is representative of American Government's desire to stress that all voices are to be heard.  Another characteristic of American Government that is represented by the film is the hope or belief that justice and the voice of the people will win out in the final analysis.  On literally his last leg, Senator Smith is saved through the bevy of letters and telegrams that have been sent on his behalf.  The hopeful line of "I'm not licked" only proves the hopes of American Government.  Namely, that its leaders will never abandon the hopes and promises of their office and their citizens.  The fact that this is included at the very end is reflective of the American hope of its government that the will of the people is going to triumph in the end.

While the corruption elements that are present might not have been directly envisioned by the framers, these also represent characteristics of the United States government. The fact that there are special interests that collude with lawmakers in the legislative process is an aspect of American government that cannot be denied.  At the same time, another element of the government which is illuminated through the film is the use of the media to control what is said and the individuals who directly benefit from it.  Taylor's machine uses the media to deflect attention from their own corrupting influence and attempt to spin it as the corruption of Smith.  This is an example of the politics of spin, which is a part of the current system of American Government.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This film portrays the US Government in a couple of different ways, both of which really conform to ways in which our government is often perceived.

For most of the movie, the government (and the Senate in particular) is portrayed in a very negative light.  The Senate is controlled by corrupt political machines and unscrupulous politicians.  This is seen both in the way Mr. Smith gets into the Senate and in the response to his proposed boys' camp.

The second way in which the government is portrayed is pretty much the opposite of the first way.  This time, the government is portrayed as being finally answerable to the people, who are moral and idealistic.  This is seen in the outpouring of support for Smith during his filibuster and the eventual change of heart by his main critic.


parama9000 | Student

It shows that the political machines used are corrupt and the politicians in the Senate are unscrupulous. It also shows that voters vote for the person whom they feel would be able to represent the interests of the people, but whether that translates to reality is another thing. Also, it shows how the media is used to control what had been said.